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The Dartmouth
May 24, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Loebner competition to test computers

Can computers think like humans? An upcoming contest to be hosted at Dartmouth in January will test that question, posed 50 years ago by British mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing.

The Loebner Prize Competition -- part of a three-day conference focusing on the future of the Turing Test -- will likely see four or five computers competing against four of five humans in a contest to determine the ability of computers to think and act like human beings, Philosophy Professor Dr. James Moor said.

The conference will discuss the "merits and problems of the Turing Test philosophically and scientifically," according to the contest's web site.

The year 2000 is especially significant because Turing predicted that by the end of the century computers would have developed far enough that an interrogator would only have a 30 percent chance of correctly differentiating between a computer and a human.

"What really interested me about the Loebner Prize was the prediction that was made for this year," Moor said. "It would be interesting to see how the prediction compares with the reality."

For the competition, a computer and a person are both asked to respond to the same questions by a judge or an interrogator. The interrogator then has a certain amount of time to decide which of the two responses is from a human. If both sides respond in a similar manner, it is determined the computer is able to think like a human.

The competition was first envisioned in 1988 by Dr. Hugh Loebner, president of Crown Industries, Inc., a manufacturer of portable dance floors and folding table legs. Loebner, who was then working in Boston, thought that he had found a computer language that would enable him to pass the Turing Test.

"I thought I could write a program that would pass the Turing Test, but there was no competition in which I could enter it," Loebner said.

"Everyone knew about the Turing Test, but no one had done anything about it. I thought that the person who solved it would be world-famous," he added.

Loebner then met with Dr. Robert Epstein, who had started a nonprofit organization, and they decided to sponsor a competition. The first contest was held in 1991 at the Boston Computer Museum.

The Grand Prize, which will be awarded to the person who can design a computer that can pass the Turing Test, consists of $100,000 and a gold medal. Each year, $2,000 and a bronze medal are awarded to the computer that comes closest to passing the Turing Test.

After taking place at Dartmouth in 2000, the Loebner Prize Competition will be held at the Science Museum in London, England for at least the next 44 years unless the Grand Prize is given away earlier, according to Loebner's web site.

Last year, the competition was held at The Flinders University of South Australia. The Australian contestants entered in-person, while contestants from the U.S. and other countries entered and discussed their projects over the Internet.

The test is being co-sponsored by the Department of Philosophy, the Department of Computer Science and the Program in Linguistics and Cognitive Science.